Friday, December 21, 2012

Coats of paint don't fix real problems.

As I continue to read Visible Learning by John Hattie I am reminded by the many things that we continue to do in education that are very ineffective.  Many of us know that these practices are ineffective yet we still do them anyway.  Educational research needs to play more of a role in our classrooms and decision making.  Why do we do these things?  Why don't we question them more? I am reminded by this quote often when we challenge the status quo.
"If  you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Tony Robbins
Lets stop assuming that these methods and practices work and lets start questioning our current practice.  Retention comes to mind as a questionable practice that still occurs in many of our schools.  Many think that retaining students and holding them back a year will cure the students ailment.  The notion that the second time around will teach them a lesson is ludicrous.  The research says, "Attendance is lower for retained students...Being retained one year doubled the students likelihood of dropping out, while failing twice almost guaranteed it."  (Hattie, 2009 p. 98)The threat of retaining students does not motivate students either.  What makes us think that the student will get the material the second time around? Based on Hattie's research students do worse academically and retention is the second greatest predictor of school dropout.  Yet we have states like Iowa attempting to mandate retention for students in third grade.

Another method of school reform is reducing class size.  Which as a superintendent am guilty of assuming that the reduction of class size will guarantee a boost in achievement.  The research says, "Evidence overall suggests that the results are systematically small."  (Hattie, 2009 p.86)  We assume less kids means increased achievement.  Hattie found that teachers of smaller classes used the same methods as they used with larger classes, they typically didn't take advantage of the small class sizes.  "This lack of outcome difference is most likely because teachers do not change their current teaching strategies." (Hattie, 2009 p.88)

As Hattie says, lets stop using a "coat of paint" to fix real problems.  Cosmetic fixes are easy and real in depth change is hard.  The change that is needed to ensure that all students learn at high levels is difficult.  We need to keep our focus on our teachers, they are the ones that ensure student achievement.  The easy fixes are expensive and lack real results and are very rarely backed by research.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

School Safety

Anytime something as heinous as what transpired on Friday occurs it causes us all to question things.  I am sure most parents like myself questioned the safety and security of our own schools.  Every school including our own district in Rugby will be reviewing emergency plans yet again.  Our number one goal is to ensure the safety of all students.  However, we need to find a balance.  We are not a prison system and we want to continue to be welcoming and available to parents.

Questions that I have continued to ask myself over the weekend are: 

Do we need to further secure our buildings?  

Are our students and staff trained well enough for lockdown procedures?

It is extremely sad that we have to have these types of plans in place for our children.  Our mission is clear we are committed to keeping children safe.  We will continue to create a caring and nurturing climate in our schools.  This I can assure you. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why our school needs a late start weekly.

Schooling in the 21st-century is flat out different than what we all experienced as we went through school.  Schools now are expected to graduate all students, and ensure that all students are learning at a high level.  The problem is, we are still stuck in a traditional structure of scheduling that allows for very little collaboration and innovation to occur.  Collaboration is an important part of what it means to be a professional.  Over the course of the next few years we will see massive reform take place in education.  Common Core, and standardized teacher evaluations to name a few at the top of my list.

TIME is a serious issue in schools in the US.  We currently spend the most time out of all countries in front of students (an average of over 1,000 instructional hours per year).  Yet on international exams we see dismal results.  So does seat time matter?  I have shared my views on seat time in the past.

Currently in both the high school and the elementary exists a hodgepodge of collaboration time.  This setup in my view is missing the ability to tie everything together.  We need cross curricular and vertical collaboration to truly be able to meet the needs of ALL students.  This is nearly impossible under our current schedule.  It will require our district, community and all stakeholders to take a risk and do something different.

I am thankful because as of this morning the school board approved a weekly late start that would begin in the 2013-14 school year.

The current plan is to start school at 9:00AM on Wednesday mornings on a weekly basis.  Teachers would collaborate from beginning at 8:00AM to 8:50AM leaving them a few minutes to get to class at 9:00AM.

I have come up with many issues that may be going through your mind right now.  I will list them below, and attempt to justify my particular views.

1. Why are you decreasing teaching time? I believe it is most important for teachers to be in front of students as much as possible, learning as much as possible. 

Research does not back up the idea that more is better with seat time.  If more time in front of teachers truly impacted achievement the US would do better on international assessments.  Research does support the fact that teachers need time to be professionals and have the ability to work with one another.  Teachers need structured time to address our new curriculum, implement best practice, have time to reflect, and provide good feedback for learning.  All of these are spotty at the moment, and we have pockets of greatness, but for us to truly be great we need to ensure that this is happening throughout the district.

2. I go to work at X time and I need to drop my child off at X time.  What am I supposed to do now?

We will still allow parents to drop their children off if they need to.  We will plan to adjust support staff to supervise or provide help with homework or offer programs.

3. Will you adjust bus times? 

Bus times would be pushed back a few minutes on Wednesdays.

4. Why have another meeting?

This is not just another meeting.  Teachers will be hard at work on the following areas, which currently rarely gets addressed.

  • Curriculum 
  • Instruction 
  • Best Practice
  • Developing high quality formative assessments 
  • Addressing our transition issues from the elementary to the high school
  • Lack of time in developing a true collaborative team across subject areas and grade levels
  • Vertical alignment 
  • Horizontal and cross curricular alignment

5. We have a good school, why the change?

"Good is the enemy of the great." Jim Collins

We are doing our best under our current schedule to address the needs of all students, but we are falling short.  The truth of the matter is that students are still falling through the cracks.  For us to be great it will take some innovative ideas, beginning with this late start concept.

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got." Henry Ford

My work begins now with how I will explain "the why" to our community, parents and all stakeholders over the coming months before the 2013-2014 school year.

Impact of the Common Core


You may or may not have heard about the changes in curriculum coming to our students in the next few years.  These changes are significant and many schools including Rugby are busy implementing the new curriculum.  In 2009, the Common Core State Standards initiative began.  The initiative was led primarily by the Governor’s Association in conjunction with other stakeholders.  There were several reasons that continue to guide this initiative including; differences in academic expectations from state to state, student mobility (ex. Western ND), changes in skill sets needed in college and career, and finally global competition.  46 states have now accepted these standards.  The Common Core will replace our current state standards.

The current state standards are a mile wide and an inch deep. There is too much emphasis on content.  Robert Marzano (2005) found that if we wanted to get through all the standards we would have to change from K-12 to K-22 model.  We have a coverage mentality in the United States.  We cover many topics but rarely study the topic in depth.  The Common Core gives us a more complete road map to ensure college and career readiness.  The Common Core impacts all teachers, and it will be important for all subject areas to play a role.  Teachers in Rugby Public Schools are working in collaboration with one another to implement these new standards.  They are establishing what all students should know and be able to do at every grade level and subject area.  The move to the Common Core coincides well with the work of our professional learning communities. 


Accountability in education is not going away with the Common Core.  Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year our students will be assessed on these new standards.  There are two testing consortia that we have to choose from – Smarter Balance and PAARC.  North Dakota has yet to commit to either.  At some point down the road our state will commit to one or the other.  The impact of the Common Core is significant.  It will take a large amount of work from all stakeholders within schools to implement these standards.  In many cases the Common Core is more rigorous than our state standards.  For example, in some instances in mathematics material that was previously taught in the sixth grade has been moved two to three grade levels lower.  This will require quite a bit of communication to vertically align the curriculum by grade level and subject.  Over the course of the next two years our staff will be working to align our curriculum to the Common Core State Standards.  It is a work in progress and there is much to learn along the way.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


There are many assumptions that we make about a student in terms of achievement and a few come to mind; home life, parents, the school, and teachers.  As an educator I have heard many times that we cannot do anything about that kid because of their home and the parents that they have.  I have always felt that WE can overcome these assumptions. Together we can melt away the effects of poverty, home life, and other barriers. I am reading Visible Learning by John Hattie and after reading a few chapters I am comforted that research backs up my claim of overcoming these assumptions.

Lets take a look at several of these issues that we sometimes deem as barriers to student success.  First we need to understand the reporting device that Hattie uses.  


"1.0 indicates an increase of one standard deviation on the outcome...A one standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing children's achievement by two to three years." (Hattie, 2009, p.7)

Anything over .40 deviation is deemed as substantial impact either positively or negatively on student achievement.  I am thankful that the top 30 impacts on student achievement all happen within the school.  We often see socioeconomic status, home life, parent structure, and motivation as major barriers.  Hattie's research shows that there are things that we can do at school that can overcome issues that may be out of our control.  I want to touch on a few of these areas and compare the impact on student achievement.  Some examples from Visible Learning that overcome socioeconomic status and home life are; 

Rank - Influence - Scale Score (Use the scale above to see impact) (Hattie, 2009, p. 299)

#3 - Formative Assessments - .90 on the scale 
#7 - Comprehensive Interventions - .77
#8 - Teacher Clarity - . 75
#10 - Feedback - .73
#11 - Teacher to Student Relationships - .72
#31 - Home Environment - .57
#32 - Socioeconomic Status - .57
#38 - Pre-Term Birth Weight - .54
#51 - Student Motivation - .48
#88 - Homework - .29

There are so many programs and practices that we use that are inneffective or that have little impact on achievement.  Hattie's work provides clarity based in research as to what is effective and ineffective.  This gives me some basis when I say that we can overcome poverty and home life at school.  


Friday, November 23, 2012

Twitter: Not just for rock stars and socialites.

Many people think of Twitter as a place where we update each other on the latest thing we have had for breakfast – or getting the latest on what Kim Kardashian is up to.  Twitter is much more than this, it is place where we can follow some very influential people and improve ourselves.  I am an avid user of Twitter and social media.  I blog regularly and tweet about educational issues, books, and our school.  I use Twitter specifically for developing myself as a professional, and connecting with other educators. 

Another reason why I use social media is to model the appropriate use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to young people.  Many of us and our children are leaving digital footprints online that may never go away.  Teaching digital citizenship to our children is very important.  So why not teach our children how to leave a positive footprint behind that doesn't come back to bite them in the future.  In the future our resume will be our digital footprint. 

Things to think about;

Google yourself, what does your current digital footprint look like?

Reflect on what you post on Facebook, are you modeling appropriate use to your children? 

Do you monitor your child’s use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)? 

Are you friends on Facebook or do you follow your child on Twitter? 

Homework Discussion

Two weeks ago we had our first class.  Sixteen teachers and administrators have taken part in a class that I am facilitating on homework and grading.  The district is picking up the cost of books, and credit cost.  We met and had a great discussion on the beliefs of homework.  Each of them have since started a blog and are in the infancy of using Twitter.  I am hoping that this will create ripples, not only with the much needed homework and grading reform but also the use of social media.

I have posted their insightful blogs below: 

Guest Post: Homework Balance

From my elementary principal: 

I enjoyed the recent book study discussion and felt that the homework belief statements brought up interesting perspectives for each of us to consider and challenged our core homework beliefs.  It was also a bit surprising to me that even though we assume different roles within the field of education, we were able to put our personal beliefs on the line, listen to each others' perspectives and find a sense of commonality.  In my opinion, the overriding thread of commonality stems from the guiding principle that we as educators should do what is best for children / our students.  In relating this core belief to our homework discussion, I tend to believe that assigning homework can serve a beneficial purpose.  Perhaps, it can provide additional practice for students who need to spend time outside of school working to further develop a particular skill that has already been taught.  This educational practice can result in a positive outcome for our students and it applies to all academic areas within all grade levels.
However, I believe there are also circumstances when homework can do more harm than good.  For example, I think back to the days when I began teaching and it was common practice for me to expect that my students to do the same amount of homework, to complete the homework task at the same level of proficiency and everyone was expected to complete the assigned task by the same due date.  It didn’t take long for me to recognize the following pattern:  some students worked to over-achieve, others planned it out so that they would meet the expected criteria, a few did just enough to get by and other students forgot (intentionally or unintentionally) about the assignment altogether.  Looking back, I feel that my practices contributed to the repetition of this cycle and I continued to do so until I realized the homework piece was as much about me as it was my students.
In conclusion, the topic that came up numerous times in our discussion was the need to find a reasonable “homework balance”.  I believe that in order to find the right balance of homework, teachers should take into consideration a number of the following factors: the age of his/her students, the relevance of the subject matter, the amount of homework / length of time it will take to complete the homework, the difficulty of the homework, the unique learning stages of his / her students, etc.  The list of considerations goes on and on...  I recognize
the difficulty of finding this “balancing” act and believe that we must deliberately select homework assignments that are intended to provide students with meaningful practice opportunities.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Will our waiver of NCLB in North Dakota be accepted?

What if our new state superintendent changes paths and pulls the waiver application?

If the waiver is abandoned does the standardized evaluation system of teachers and principals go away too?

When will ESEA be reauthorized?

What if we don't make AYP again?

What if? What if?

These are many questions that I have and as a leader of a school district.  Within the climate of accountability it is difficult to bring clarity to teachers and stakeholders.  Do legislators and policy makers actually understand the strain that they put on districts due to the lack of action with ESEA?  I am a proactive person, but I find it difficult to stay a step ahead as education policy changes specifically in our state.  There is so much uncertainty right now specifically with ESEA and the waiver.  We need to be more active and make our influence felt on people that make the decisions.  I don't believe we do this enough as educators.  

How do you make your influence felt?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Be careful of what you read...

What is really going on in our nation’s schools? 

I attended a conference last week and it really got me thinking about the perception of public schools.  Nationally, the assumption from the media is that our public schools are failing.  We must be careful as we wade through what may be considered truth by a certain few.  PISA is the international test the media often refers to when gauging successful education systems.  PISA stands for the Program for International Student Assessment.  Students are chosen at random in the countries that participate.  In 2009, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.  We are in the middle of the pack based on international comparisons and it is cause for concern.  These statistics state the we are behind, but are we?  The United States consistently ranks the best on the Global Competitive Index, which means our economy is strong and our people are competitive.  Yong Zhao, the author of, “Catching up or Leading the Way,” says that the higher the nation’s scores on PISA the less innovative those countries are.  International test scores are not a valid predictor of national success. 

Our public schools, teachers and principals are constantly under the microscope.  Nationally, our worst public schools have begun to represent all public schools in United States.  The large percentage of schools in North Dakota are great schools, and Rugby is no different.  We consistently rank well above the state average on the North Dakota State Assessment and the ACT.  There have been recent reports that the ACT and SAT scores are at an all-time low.  The scores are lower, but we must look at the reasons as to why this is before we can make assumptions.  In North Dakota, we primarily use the ACT for college entrance.  As of three years ago the state of North Dakota now requires all juniors to take the ACT, in the past it was voluntary.  Until this mandate only students that were going to attend college took the ACT.  100% of all juniors in the state of North Dakota take the ACT, which has decreased the overall score.  The reality is that more students are taking the ACT and SAT than ever before, this has caused the decline in scores. 

Don’t get me wrong like any organization we have areas that we need to improve upon, but the majority of our nation’s schools are doing an excellent job at educating our youth.  Please be weary of the assumptions the media may make in regards to our schools.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching is a profession!

I have been reading an excellent book lately from Fullan & Hargreaves Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.  The book discusses the idea of developing professional capital within your schools.  This becomes very difficult in the United States due to the nature of our educational system.  Part of being a professional is to have the time to be one.  Teachers must be able to have time within their work day to work together and to be able to reflect.
"In the United States - being a teacher means spending almost all your time just teaching and teaching without time to reflect on and refine teaching." - Fullan & Hargreaves
What profession spends all of their time doing their craft and not given time to reflect on best practice and even more important next practice?
"Expert teachers are always consolidating what they know to be effective, testing it, and continuously adding to is." 
In the United States we spend almost double the amount of time teaching than other more successful countries based on PISA scores.  Our solve has always been to increase the school day and school year.  When we know that other more successful educational systems spend far less time "teaching" and more time being a professional.

What does it mean to be a professional?

Professionals have time to collaborate, research, reflect on best practice and new practice.  Professionals have the continual growth mindset.  They never get stagnant and actively take risks to improve themselves.  Professionals have a collegial responsibility to each other to improve as one.  They make each other better by bouncing different methods off of each other.  Professionals are critical of each other and are able to have crucial conversations without taking it personal.

There are three kinds of capital that comprise professional capital according to Fullan & Hargreaves.

Human Capital: Skills that can be developed within people.  The sooner people start school, and the longer the period of attending school, then the more return on investment for our economy.

Social Capital: Exists in the relations of people.
"Social capital increases your knowledge - it gives you access to other people's human capital."
WE need to increase the collegial responsibility of each other.  Isolation will not allow for our teachers to receive other teachers human capital.  To me social capital is the glue that holds everything together.

Decisional Capital: The essence of professionalism is the ability to make discretionary judgements.

The practice of making good quality decisions increases this capital within people.  Having the time to reflect plays a key role in this area.  Talking with others in your similar role and reflecting on those conversations increases decisional capital.

I always seem to revert back to time and scheduling within my own school.  Our teachers don't have the time to be professionals.  They don't have the time to reflect, to meet with each other, to do research, to use best practices and next practices.  The amount of time a student spends in a seat does not lead directly to student achievement.  The US is a prime example of this.  Lets keep this in mind and begin to allow our public schools the freedom to create innovative schedules that allow for professional growth.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fathers as reading role models

Last weekend I had the privilege to take part in a international symposium on education. At which I heard Caroline Hirlihy speak.  She was a former head teacher (principal) from the United Kingdom.  During her presentation she mentioned a program they had started called "Dad's Reading Project."  This caught my attention.  There is quite a bit of research out there that supports the power of reading to your children at an early age. It may even be more important to boys as to which parent reads books in the home.

Research from The Children's Literature Research Centre in London found that there was no clear evidence that boys came to school as reluctant readers.  They did however find, "that many boys start to resist reading, and resent activities which tend to surround reading in school." Ted Wragg, found that in the early years, "boys find it hard to make a good start on reading.  From their point of view, it is a more female than male activity."
"The Leverhulme Project found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to read with children at home."   
As a classroom teacher I saw this first hand.  Girls were much more likely to have the reading completed, and would often be able to expand on what they had read overall.  This has caused me to really reflect on the time I have spent on reading with my own children.  So I challenge all dads to be reading role models to their children, especially boys.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How do you develop student voice?

Yesterday was by far the deepest learning experience I have ever had.  I took part in an international symposium with a representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada and regional schools.  We capped off the day with a debate of Yong Zhao's book Catching Up or Leading the Way.  This symposium was interlinked with my doctoral curriculum class.  It was a great learning experience and allowed us to create.  We took ownership of our learning, and the freedom granted to us allowed for us to develop deeper understanding.

Our professor was hands off and allowed us to go in any direction that we wanted in preparing for the debate.  Driving home yesterday I began thinking about how we can embed this type of learning into our schools.  This type of deep learning is exhausting and leaves you wanting more.  Below is the setup of how the debate operated.  This could be easily setup with any class at any level.

I feel debates are great ways to develop deep understanding and a great way to develop student voice.  By the end of the debate many people in the audience changed their views on the topic.  As leaders and educators we need to be able to understand both sides of an issue and be able to draw conclusions from those.

How do you develop student voice?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A conversation on motivation between educators


There is great book on motivation, "Drive" written by Daniel Pink that everyone should read.  ----- nailed it with, 
"those of you in --------- this summer will remember talking about motivating staff members. I believe the group came to the conclusion that you cannot motivate someone to do something."  
After reading, "Drive" and being in the educational profession for almost ten years I believe we cannot motivate all people.  People are either extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated.  You may be able to inspire to motivate some staff.  Other staff will see right through the smoke and mirrors and go back to doing what they have always done.  Pink, writes further about motivation, for people to be motivated they must be given autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy: How often do we actually give people the freedom to do their job?  In education autonomy is rarely given from policy makers let alone individual schools.  Here is an example from “Drive.”
“You must paint this sort of picture. You must begin precisely at eight-thirty A.M. You must paint with the people we select to work with you. Andy you must paint this way.”
Mastery: How do we change compliance to engagement? --------, talks about how he has some teachers that “clock in and clock out” and do very little extra.  They are compliant.  “Mastery is an asymptote.” I am preaching to the choir here, but we are all here to reach mastery.  We are an asymptote, we are always seeking to reach that line, but we can never get close enough.  Mastery is pain, Mastery is a mindset.  How do we instill this into our staff?

Purpose: We all have purpose as to why we went into education.  What is yours?  How do we grow that purpose into our staff?  This is the challenge!   Without purpose we are nothing, we come every day and collect a check. 

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose motivates people, not individuals. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rethinking Homework and Grading

I am going to take a risk and offer a class to our teachers at my school.  The University of North Dakota allows qualified individuals to offer continuing education credits.  The district  will purchase the books and pay for the credit cost as well.  It is my sneaky way to get a small pocket of people to begin challenging their homework and grading practices.  Hopefully it will spread from there.  Below is an example of what the course will look like.  I hope to embed blogging and Twitter chats for opportunities for reflection.  It is a win win in my opinion.

My objective:

This learning event will provide focused professional development for individuals in our school.  This will be by volunteer only.  We will read “RethinkingHomework,” by Cathy Vatterrott and “Elements of Grading” by Doug Reeves.  The participants will blog and reflect on what they have read and how it challenges their thinking as well as how this will this change what they do.  This will be offered over the course of a school year with the intent of completing all required hours during that time.  The two books that we will read, discuss and write about are fairly radical and will really challenge each participant’s philosophy in terms of grading and homework.   

Example Session #1

Start Time

Rethinking Homework - Discussion

Mike McNeff

7:00AM – 8:00AM

Discussion of Chapters 1-2

Masters – EDL
Ed.D Cohort

1 Hour

1 hour

Twitter discussion related to topic

Masters – EDL
Ed.D Cohort

1 Hour

1 hour

Blogging: reflection on Chapter 1-2

Masters – EDL
Ed.D Cohort

1 Hour

I plan to write about the process when approved by UND.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Less is more

In the majority of schools in the United States the amount of time a student spends in a seat is the single most important item when receiving credit.  For over 100 years the Carnegie Unit continues to drive our nations schools.  As I was reading, Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?  I came across an interesting segment on seat time comparisons to other countries.  The United States leads the way in the amount of instructional hours we require of students.  Here are some actual numbers from the book.
"Finland teaches about 600 hours annually compared to the United States' 1,080 hours." - Pasi Sahlberg
US policy makers have typically increased the hours of instruction as their fix to the problems that exist.  It begs the question, does seat time really matter?  Based on this study and comparisons to high performing countries like Finland seat time does not matter.  Finland greatly outperforms the United States with half of the amount of instructional hours.  
"There appears to be very little correlation between intended instruction hours in public education and resulting students performance, as assessed by the PISA study." - Pasi Sahlberg 
I have been thinking a lot about how we can embed more collaborative time within the school day K-12.  It makes it very difficult to embed school improvement processes when it is all about seat time and the length of the day.  When will policy makers realize that it is not about the amount of hours or minutes that make up the day? It is the quality of the instruction given to students.  This in my opinion cannot be accomplished without flexible scheduling by schools.  
"Lower teaching hours provide teachers more opportunities to engage in school improvement, curriculum planning, and personal professional development during their working hours." - Pasi Sahlberg 

It's about QUALITY not QUANTITY.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Video doesn't lie

As a former coach we used video as a tool to improve the talent of our players.  During my playing days in college we used video to evaluate our footwork and blocking schemes.  I remember these sessions were very important to my personal development as a football player.  Video evaluation was even more important to our team.  I am currently reading The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.  Wagner makes his point that video could be the best way to improve teacher instruction.
"We never actually look at and talk about teaching together.  And if we want to improve instruction, the first thing we need to do is make the classroom walls transparent."
How often do we actually look at and talk about teaching together?  
"We have to videotape ourselves and one another - not just in the classrooms but in our coaching sessions with teachers and even in our meetings."
Think about the great feedback we could give teachers if we videotaped lessons and critiqued the lesson together between the principal and teacher or between teacher and a group of peers.  It is no different than what athletic coaches do with their players.  This type of development is risky for people, it is hard to speak the truth and video does not lie.  Richard Elmore said it best, "education is the 'Land of Nice."
"To really take a critical look at what's going on in classrooms would be to violate the unspoken contract, whereby teacher and principal autonomy remains the preeminent value of the profession."
Coaching and school leadership are very similar.  They should be developing talent and encouraging continuous improvement. Video could be a powerful development tool.  However, it is something that could be very scary for teachers.  I don't see it as something that would go into an evaluation.  To me using video is a means of sparking great conversations about instruction between teachers and administration.  

What are your thoughts on using video to improve instruction?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reduce class size or develop teachers?

After much discussion and deliberation we will be hiring another teacher to split a large Kindergarten class.  I am a believer in small class sizes, especially in the lower elementary grades.  Many administrators wrestle with the decision of splitting a larger class into multiple sections.

Where does the research stack up to smaller class size?

There is a lot of conflicting research for class size reduction and against it.  There is a study that focused specifically on large reductions from 22 students to 15 students.  In this case, the conclusion was that over the course of four years students in smaller sections achieved higher.  Students were 3 months further ahead than their peers in larger classes.

There is also research that supports smaller class size has an even greater impact on students coming from poverty.  The National School Lunch Program has a recommended class size chart in relation to poverty level.

NSLP Recommended Class Size Targets
0-25% 26-40% 41-50% >50%
K-2 23 22 20 18
3-5 25 24 22 20

North Dakota Century Code recommends students in K-2 not exceed 25 students in a class.

The other side of the argument for class size reduction is that it is not about the size of the classroom, it is about the teacher.  There is research out there that class size does not matter when they are taught by an excellent teacher.  Check this article out: Better teachers, not tinier classrooms, should be the goal.  He does have a point.

"A great teacher can teach 60.  A poor teacher will struggle with 5." - Jay Matthews 

What are your thoughts?  Should administrators focus on putting money on hiring more teachers to reduce class size or focus on providing funding for developing amazing teachers?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vision development


It's that time of the year when many school leaders are busy developing their visions for their school districts. The Leadership Challenge gives some good examples to think about when clarifying your vision.

  1. Leaders appeal to common ideals. 
  2. They connect others to what is most meaningful in the shared vision. 
  3. They lift people to higher levels of motivation and morality, and continuously reinforce they can make a difference in the world.  
  4. Exemplary leaders make others feel proud to be a part of something extraordinary. 
  5. Best leaders understand that it's not their personal view of the future that's important, it's the aspirations of all their constituents that matter most. 
  6. Visions must be compelling and memorable.
  7. Leaders must breath life into visions, they must animate them so that others can experience what it would be like to live and work in that ideal and unique future. 
  8. Leaders generate enthusiasm and excitement for the common vision. 
  9. Above all, leaders must be convinced of the value of the shared vision and share that genuine belief with others.  
  10. They must BELIEVE in what they are saying. 
  11. Constituents will only follow willingly if they sense that the vision is genuine.  
How do you build your vision?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shared values

I have found that there are too many good books out there to read and not enough time in the day to get them all read.  I have been picking away at The Leadership Challenge for quite a while.  It was recommended by @leadershipfreak as one of the best books to read on leadership.  One of the biggest impacts on me in the book was the segment on shared values.  I am reminded of this in my new position as superintendent.  
"Leaders can't impose their values on organizational members.  Instead they must be proactive in involving people in the process of creating shared values."
It is very easy as a leader to have tunnel vision and not see other perspectives when implementing change.  We often see the end result in our minds and assume other people see it too.  I think about all the initiatives that we force feed teachers and the so called "silver bullet" programs.  In the end we need to involve them more into our decision making to develop trust. (thanks @samfrancera)

"Shared values are the result of listening, appreciating, building concensus, and practicing conflict resolution." 

"Unity is forged, not forced."

Monday, July 23, 2012

My concerns with school lunch changes...


A common complaint from every school I have ever been in has been the school lunch program.  This year it is going to get a bit more complicated for schools across the country as they begin to comply with the changes to National School Lunch Program.  There has been good discussion on our state's email system between administrators regarding this subject recently.  I tend to agree with many of them regarding the limits on seconds and reduced portions.  Rule changes to NLSP eliminates "free" seconds for students and greatly reduces portion size.  If the school provides seconds the student must pay full price regardless if they are free or reduced students.  

I understand the idea behind the changes with the obesity epidemic in our country.  I just feel that there needs to be more education for parents and students.  We can't just deny extra food to students and expect it to impact them outside of school.  Students need to understand the importance of eating right and it needs to happen within the home as well.

Many of our students get one good meal a day and it occurs at school.  I have a hard time turning away these students when they go home to an empty fridge.  I am very concerned that our students on free and reduced lunches will suffer.

What are your thoughts??

Friday, July 6, 2012

New Beginnings!

The past three years I have been 7-12 principal at a small rural school.  Recently, I accepted a superintendent position at a medium sized school.  My blog will still have the same focus, but perhaps a  different perspective.  I am looking forward to the new position and truly appreciate the people and community of my previous school.  I leave with many fond memories.  I am excited for this new opportunity and stay tuned for new blogs as I get settled.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Play, Passion and Purpose

I am wrapping up Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, By Tony Wagner. What a great read! Play, Passion and Purpose was referenced throughout the book.  Wagner found that all the young innovators he interviewed were allowed to develop the three P's.  What I found alarming is that almost half of them could not name a single teacher who had been truly helpful to them.

"Research shows that human beings are born with an innate desire to explore, experiment and imagine new possibilities - in a word, to Innovate." - Tony Wagner
Wagner goes further with stating the importance of creating opportunities for unstructured play.  As parents we tend to over parent when our students are playing.  That is where the creativity begins at an early age.  Allowing children to experiment and play away from TV and other devices is important for their development .  I personally am worried that we will continue to squeeze the creative juices out of students with the current state of standardization of schools.  Creative and innovative kids are disruptive in school they typically struggle due to all the rules.  I don't blame teachers, we have to follow a specific set of standards.  It is what it is, but how can we empower and grow innovators in our current state of affairs?


Passion is the intrinsic motivation in all of us.  Parents kill the right passion in kids.  I find myself doing this already.  I was involved extensively in athletics and my hope early on was that my children would have the same passion that I have for athletics.  My daughter is five years old and she couldn't be less interested in teeball and soccer.  I understand that I can't force her to like something, she must have passion or intrinsic motivation to do something.  It is our job as parents and educators to unlock that passion.  How do we unlock and allow for passion to develop in students?

"I observe that young innovators almost invariably develop passion to learn or do something as adolescents, but their passions evolve through learning and exploration into something far deeper, more sustainable, and trustworthy - Purpose." - Tony Wagner  
"These young people played a great deal - but their play was frequently far less structured than most children's, and they had opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error - to take risks and to fall down." - Tony Wagner 
The other day I was in a school and part of their mission statement was, "Failure is not and option."  How are we to encourage risk taking if we say that failure is no longer an option.  This thinking is a killer of creativity and innovation.

This book has been a great read, and something that all educators should take a look at. More importantly parents need to read it.  Most schools are locked into accountability and do not take the time to encourage Play, Passion, and Purpose.  It may be up to you to give your children those much needed experiences.

How do we develop innovators and encourage creativity for students that are less fortunate???

Thursday, May 31, 2012

EDcamp ND

On June 11th, Magic City Campus located in Minot, ND will host the first annual Edcamp in North Dakota.  Currently there are around 50-60 people planning to attend.  It will be an exciting day and we are looking forward to it.  If you unfamiliar with what an edcamp is please view the video below.  It will be a great of participant driven professional development!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lessons learned from year one in PLC's

In a few weeks we will wrap up the 2011-2012 school year.  I have been thinking and reflecting quite a bit about how we can improve our PLC's, as well as the lessons learned after year one of full implementation.  I must say from a school climate stand point I feel that it has done wonders in increasing the communication among staff.  There are many more professional conversations occurring now.  I feel that we are on the same page, and focused for the most part on the same goals.

Some lessons learned after year one:

  1. Clarification is so important in any change initiative.  I found that I had to reiterate several times as to what we should be doing and what it should look like.  We spun our wheels for a while, and I appreciate my teachers willingness to work through a very messy process.  Even after a year, I still find myself clarifying what it is we want to accomplish.  This will continue as we move to each different stage.  As administrators we must take an active role.  
  2. Monitoring is equally important from me, teachers must know that I have bought into the change initiative too.  If we just throw 4-5 people in a room with no goals or direction and expect them to collaborate, we won't accomplish much.  There is also a point where you could over monitor.  I needed to find that happy medium, and give them autonomy to put their own spin on it.  
  3. Many people talk about celebrating success, with year one there wasn't much data to back up what we were doing.  We devoted time at staff meetings to talk about what we were doing in our PLC's.  They shared documents, and discussed at length.  You could feel a sense of pride develop over time with the work they were creating.  I thought this was beneficial for all, it allowed them to compare and give feedback to each team.  This was our way of celebrating.
  4. Most PLC teams are highly effective at this point.  I found that I had to focus time on some of the groups that were more reluctant.  Sometimes we need to be the guide to our groups to make them effective.  
Vision for next year:

Quite a few groups have developed all Powerstandards that are fully transitioned to the Common Core.  Our next step is to take a deeper look at our assessment of those standards and begin developing formative assessments that link to our intervention times.  I look forward to watching and taking part in our continued growth as a PLC.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Formative Assessment Ideas

We have been dabbling as a school on what our common formative assessments may look like.  I threw together a possible layout of what it could look like down the road. I used Lucidcharts to create chart.  Its not groundbreaking, but I thought it could easily be tied to our RTI program.  An argument one may have is that formative assessment needs to happen on a quicker basis.  My thoughts on this relate to a recent post on standards based grading.  I anticipate these assessments would happen on a weekly basis to check for 4-5 of the major concepts teachers choose as part of their power benchmarks.

Initial ideas of how it would work:

1. Give all students the quick assessment - check for understanding.
2. Students that are not proficient will be placed in our ELA/Math intervention rooms.
3. Small group setting - focused on mastery development of the benchmark assessment.
4. This will allow us to diagnose the learning breakdown faster.
5. Students take a similar assessment to "test out."

Below I posted some recent Tweets from some users in response to my question related to formative assessments.  I was impressed with some responses.

We need to focus on formative assessments not summative assessments as means to improve student performance!

How are you implementing common formative assessments?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Do you ask for feedback?

Recently, we have been discussing grades and more specifically feedback.  I started thinking about how I as principal ask for feedback.  Like most leaders I would say that I don't ask for enough of it.  I have been reading The Leadership Challenge and there is a good piece on feedback.

Kouzes & Posner reference a leader that sought out feedback from his team.
"The feedback that I received was kind of hard to hear...And that was really one of the benefits to the group.  To take that personal risk; to model for the group that it's okay to place yourself at personal risk and take that honest feedback."
Asking for feedback from your constituents is risky business, we may uncover the truth of what is really occurring in our organization.  I think we all know what we will hear from them, but are either too afraid of it or don't want to take the risk of knowing the truth.  As they say, the truth hurts.
"Learning to be a better leader requires great self-awareness, and it requires making ourselves vulnerable.  Modeling that for others makes it easier for them to do the same when it comes their turn." - Kouzes & Posner  
How do you ask for feedback from the constituents of your organization?

I personally need to do more of this! I would be curious to hear how you gather feedback.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on standards based grading

Tomorrow we will continue discussing grading reform at our school.  We are making small strides towards grading reform.  The chart above is how I envision standards based grading, which is where I hope our journey takes us.

Standards based grading is not easy and difficult to implement.  Below are a few of the must-do's to lay the ground work.
  1. You must decide what students need to know and be able to do when they exit your class.  
  2. Develop the formative assessment of each standard.  
  3. Discussions on how to respond to each student that is not meeting the proficient level. 
  4. What interventions will be used to develop mastery?
  5. How will the team decide to gather the evidence of learning?
I am not an expert nor have I gone through the entire process.  We are learning from mistakes as we go.  A few of my PLC teams have completed their powerstandards or essential learnings for each course.  These groups will begin developing their methods of assessments.  I believe this is the most important part of the whole process.  

Please provide some feedback to the graphic above.  What are your thoughts on standards based grading? 

A good source to spark a grading discussion is Elements of Grading by Doug Reeves

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are we stealing dreams?

I am a visible leader.  I realize that my time to develop relationships with students is during lunch, before school, after school and during class breaks.  During these rounds I often stand by and listen to conversations of students, this helps me to feel the pulse of the school.  This morning as I was doing my usual ritual of talking with students a few students were talking about school.  Their conversation centered around how they couldn't wait to graduate and get out of here.  These comments resonated with me all day today, and couldn't help but think about our latest read on #edfocus.

Seth Godin recently published his manifesto for school reform titled, "Stop Stealing Dreams." You can find it here and it is free to read! Stop Stealing Dreams  Godin calls for a revolution in education.
"In order to efficiently jam as much testable data into a generation of kids, we push to make those children compliant, competitive zombies." - Seth Godin
When I think about those students comments and the way the world is going, are we becoming irrelevant?  My hope is that students love to come to our school, and that they are challenged. We should be instilling skills that will help them in the future not cramming as much testable data into them as possible.  I have asked this question before, can we teach these skills and still make AYP?

Is the system stealing the dreams from these students?

Is it just that time of the year?  Could it be teenagers just being teenagers?  Or worse yet, the truth?

Bill Ferriter asked this similar question recently in his blog, do you make ANY time for skills that AREN'T easily tested but ARE incredibly important? 
"But the sanctity of performance/testing/compliance-based school is rarely discussed and virtually never challenged." - Seth Godin
I feel the current focus of #edreform will only continue to hinder and decrease the joy of learning.  As leaders we are faced with a choice, worry about test scores or focus on 21st century skills.  Currently, test scores rank supreme.  I am fully aware that accountability will not go away, and we must find ways to combine accountability and these important skills.  Until then I hope that these comments were influenced by being just 'that time of the year.'

Thursday, April 5, 2012

21st Century Skills vs. Standardization

In education we find ourselves locked in a struggle between developing 21st century skills and skills that are needed to do well on standardized tests.  In our current state of standardization it is very difficult to focus specifically on skills that matter.  These are skills like; problem solving, communication, collaboration, information and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) literacy, flexibility and adaptability, self direction, leadership, and responsibility.  Students will need to have these skills to be able to compete in the future.

As I finish up 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times I question myself, are we doing enough to prepare our students for the future?  Or are we too focused on increasing proficiency levels at any cost?  Is it possible to meet proficiency levels and instill these very important skills?

Trilling & Fadel reference a Thinkquest called, The SARS Project throughout the book as the type of project we should be using to prepare our students for the future.  The team communicated and collaborated online.  Most were in different time zones which required quite a bit of coordination.  The students won multiple awards for this project.  Their passion for the topic sparked their creativity, and deepened their understanding.

Trilling & Fadel found,
"Using knowledge as it is being learned - applying skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity to the content knowledge - increases motivation and improves learning outcomes."  
This is very important and gives me hope that we can mesh 21st century skills and standardization together.  Let's use the knowledge needed to reach high proficiency levels and incorporate these skills into what is being learned.

Sir Ken Robinson,
"We do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it - or rather, we are educated out of it." 
I sat and watched my two children play at a children's museum recently and I was amazed at their curiosity.  I sat and wondered what if school was like this?  Both are preschool aged, and my hope is that they never lose their curiosity for learning.   Students need to be able to innovate and be creative now and in the future.  Focusing mainly on facts, memorization and basic skills is not enough.

What is your school doing to prevent educating the creativity out of students?

Monday, March 26, 2012

21st Century Skills: Are we doing enough?

Our school's book club recently chose to read 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times written by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel.  There has been so much talk about 21st century skills for years now, and many argue what those specific skills are exactly.  Trilling & Fadel discuss four powerful forces that are converging on our world and they create the need new forms of learning.  Below are the four converging forces on our educational system according to Trilling &Fadel.

1. Knowledge Work
2. Thinking Tools
3. Digital Lifestyles
4. Learning Research 

Knowledge Work

The world of work is changing in the Knowledge Age (21st Century).  There is big time pressure on us in education to make a shift to develop these skills.  Content isn't the problem, I think it is the process we use to deliver our lessons.  
"Today's knowledge work is done collaboratively in teams with team members often spread across multiple locations, using a digital zoo of devices and services to coordinate their project work." 
Are we doing enough in our schools to prepare our students for Knowledge Work?  Are we creating environments that teach our students these skills?  How does your school stack up?

Thinking Tools
"Technology and the digital devices and services that fill a knowledge worker's toolkit - the thinking tools of our time - may be the most potent forces for change in the 21st century."
Eric Sheninger talks often about creating initiatives like Bring Your Own Technologies into schools.  He tweets and blogs regularly about 21st Century skills.  You can read more here: It is time for schools to seriously consider BYOT This may be the easiest way to put more devices or thinking tools into our students hands.
"In the past, memorizing the tidy set of known facts, rules, figures, and dates of any school subject was challenging but necessary part of learning.  Today, attempting to memorize the overflowing storerooms of facts and knowledge in any field is clearly impossible."
With the amount of information that is available, is it necessary to teach facts anymore?  

Digital Lifestyles

We live in a digital age. If you are under the age of thirty-one you grew up surrounded by digital media.  Our students don't know anything else, this is their lifestyle.  They know that they are different than "digital immigrants" these are people who learned to "do technology" later in life.  The following are the  expectations of this group according to a recent student. 
  • Freedom to choose and express their personal views and individual identities 
  • Customization and personalization 
  • Scrutiny - detailed, behind the scenes analysis 
  • Integrity and openness in their interactions with others from organizations 
  • Entertainment and play to be intergrated into their work, learning and social life
  • Collaboration and relationships to be a vital part of what they do 
  • Speed in comminications, getting information, and getting responses to questions and messages
  • Innovation in products, services, employers, and schools, and in their own lives
"A one-size-fits-all factory model and one-way broadcast approach to learning does not work well for these students."
How are we personalizing learning for these students?

Learning Research

Trilling & Fadel found five key findings that may help to guide and reshape learning to meet our times.  

  1. Create more authentic learning experiences.  Students need more real-world problem solving, internships in real work settings.  
  2. Allow mental model building, students should be put into situations that incorporate new experiences that change their views over time.  
  3. Create lessons that have an emotional connection to what is being learned.  I can remember this whenever we covered the Holocaust.  Students were so into the lesson, because of the emotional connection involved.  
  4. Create more personalized learning opportunities for students.  Differentiate!
  5. Embed social learning into lessons.  Online communication is an option.  

How are you currently embedding 21st century skills into your school or classroom?  What are the most important skills that we need embed into our curriculum?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reflection: Catching Up or Leading the Way?

#edfocus recently finished up reading Catching Up or Leading the Way, by Yong Zhao.  Zhao voices his concern with the direction of educational reform in the United States.  He brings a unique perspective in that he was born in China,  and went through their educational system.  He now lives in America and has children that attend American schools.

We often hear quotes by very important people that bash our system and our current state of affairs.
"America's high schools are obsolete." - Bill Gates  
"Our schools have been underperforming for 25 years.  America is slipping farther and farther behind the rest of the world academically because we have been unable to enact meaningful reforms or substantially improve student in learning in the last quarter century." - Strong American Schools, 2008
Zhao makes an argument that questions if the system is broken.

Why is it that Americans still receive over two-thirds of the patents issued per year?

Zhao labels China as the "Worlds Factory." They manufacture goods that have been thought of in America.  Very little innovation occurs in China, even with the large amount of college graduates.

Is it the American education system that is the strength?  Lack of standardization in the past may have attributed to the creativity and individuality that allows innovation to bloom.
"Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference" - Jane Goodall
Zhao explains that China operates under a rigid standardized system, and leaders realize that even though they may score high on international testing, they fail to produce innovators.  Due to this understanding they are making the shift away from standardization and beginning to mimic the educational system in the United States.

As I finish up, Zhao poses an interesting question, is there a correlation between high international test scores and a nations' overall success?  Anyone read any research supporting this belief?

By the way, I am not saying we don't have our problems in our schools by any means.  Zhao does provide some good points though.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How do you evaluate?

This is a very important time of the year for myself and staff.  As I wrap up my final post-observation meetings it is time to reflect on the past few months of formally evaluating teachers.  Evaluation is never an easy process for both sides, my hope is to help my teachers grow as educators.  It shouldn't be a gotcha moment for teachers.

It is important that trust is established and that it isn't a session full of nitpicking and negativity.  I had some very good conversations about teaching and learning.  It makes it all worthwhile when you see growth from year to year.  Anthony Cody put together a nice article a few days ago regarding evaluation.  It really caused me to think differently about my current state of evaluation.  
"A teacher meets with his or her evaluator. They review the professional standards in use, and look for areas in need of growth. Maybe it is a focus on literacy and writing skills. Maybe it is bringing the English learners level of engagement and participation up. They discuss strategies the teacher might try to address these things, and they also discuss the forms of evidence they will look at over the year to see what is happening in this area. Assessment, especially of the classroom-based formative sort, is a powerful tool. How is a teacher assessing his or her students' abilities? How are they using that information to give feedback and give the student appropriate, challenging work? This is where test data may play an important role, because a skilled teacher draws on this data to better understand their students."
"Once an area of focus has been defined, the teacher and evaluator find some professional development resources that might help as well -- maybe a conference to attend, some books that might be read, a grade level team that might come observe a lesson here and there and offer feedback, a colleague that is expert in this area to go observe. Then over the year, the teacher collects student work samples that provide evidence of learning. They document how they have designed instruction to help students learn, and show where they have provided feedback. The evaluator observes, a few times at random, and a few times by request, to see particular lessons. This evidence would be appropriate to the goal that has been set. It could include some test data, but test data would just be one source of evidence among many."
What is your evaluation process?  How can we have more of these deep discussions regarding teaching and learning throughout the year?

How do we remove the stigma attached to evaluation?  Can we?

You can find Anthony Cody's full post here: Teacher Evaluation: Should we Look at Evidence of Learning?